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Preview: The Rehearsal Studio

The Rehearsal Studio



A place to exercise ideas before writing about them with greater discipline.



Updated: 2018-01-16T16:04:56.092-08:00

 



Opera Parallèle to Partner with SFJAZZ Again

2018-01-16T09:29:10.161-08:00

Following up on the joint production of Terence Blanchard’s opera Champion, Opera Parallèle will again collaborate with SFJAZZ. This time the occasion will be a joint celebration of the centennial of the birth of Leonard Bernstein on August 25, 1918. Much of Bernstein’s music was heavily influenced by both jazz and popular song. Those who know their jazz know that Bernstein wrote “Big Stuff” for Billie Holiday, which she first recorded for Decca in November of 1944.

Opera Parallèle will bring to the SFJAZZ Center a fully-staged production of Bernstein’s one-act opera “Trouble in Tahiti,” which he composed in 1951 using a libretto that he authored. Bernstein’s jazzy side pervades much of his score, particularly in the close harmonies provided by the “Greek chorus” specified in the libretto. The vocalists for this performances will be soprano Krista Wigle, tenor Andres Ramirez, and baritone Bradley Kynard. The cast itself consists only of a husband and wife dealing with the dark side of what was supposed to be a utopian suburban life. Both of these roles will be double-cast with baritones Kyle Albertson and Eugene Brancoveanu and mezzos Renée Rapier and Abigail Levis, respectively.

Abigail Levis and Eugene Brancoveanu in “Trouble in Tahiti” (from the SFJAZZ Web site)

“Trouble in Tahiti” will be preceded by Jake Heggie's “At the Statue of Venus,” a single scene scored for soprano and piano setting a libretto by Terrence McNally. The text is basically the interior monologue of a young woman waiting for her blind date. The setting is a museum, and the woman is waiting at the foot of a statue of the Goddess of Love. The order of presentation will suggest that this is the woman that we shall subsequently encounter as the wife in “Trouble in Tahiti.” Creative Director Brian Staufenbiel has written a “before-and-after” narrative text, which will serve to provide a seamless link between these two operas. Artistic Director Nicole Paiement will conduct.

This production will be given six performances between Thursday, February 15, and Sunday, February 18, preceded by a preview taking place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 14. Rapier and Albertson will sing at the preview and at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, February 16, and Sunday, February 18, and at 3 p.m. on Saturday, February 17. Levis and Brancoveanu will present the “opening night” at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 15. They will also sing at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 17 and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, February 18. The SFJAZZ Center is located at 201 Franklin Street, on the northwest corner of Fell Street. Tickets are priced from $30 to $170. SFJAZZ has created a single event page with hyperlinks for purchasing tickets to all seven performances.



Bobo Stenson Trio Returns to ECM

2018-01-15T11:01:09.933-08:00

Bobo Stenson at the keyboard in 2006 (photograph by Richard Kaby, from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson has been leading a trio with bass player Anders Jormin for more than 30 years. Over that time they have worked with a series of drummers, including Rune Carlsson, Jon Christensen, and Paul Motian. When Motian departed in 2007, he was replaced by Jon Fält, who is still with the group. The trio has been making recordings for ECM since Christensen’s tenure, the first album, Reflections, having been released in 1993.

The group’s latest album, Contra la indecisión, will be released this coming Friday. As is usually expected, Amazon.com is currently taking pre-orders. The album is named after its first track, a song written by the Cuban singer Silvio Rodríguez, who has sometimes been called “Cuba’s John Lennon.” Stenson himself is solely responsible for only one track, “Alice,” while Jormin is the composer of three: “Doubt Thou The Stars,” “Three Shades Of A House,” “Oktoberhavet,” and “Stilla.” “Kalimba Impressions” is the joint product of the entire trio.

What makes Stenson particularly interesting, however, is his ability to appropriate source material from “external” (sometimes unlikely) sources and then work it into his trio’s style of performance. Stenson calls such adaptation “respectful transformation.” That includes identifying the possibilities for improvising departures from the source; but it may also entail taking a different point of view, so to speak. For example, his adaptation of a wedding song from the Slovakian village of Poniky is based on music originally collected by Béla Bartók during his ethnomusicological research of eastern European regions. Under Stenson’s hands the music barely sounds anything like a “folk form,” let alone how Bartók appropriated it for his own purposes. Yet the substance of the original song is still there and is brought into a new light by virtue of Stenson’s own individual keyboard style.

A more direct appropriation can be found in Erik Satie’s “Élégie,” the second of a set of three songs he composed in 1886. This track begins with a relatively clear account of both the piano part and the vocal line. (It also may have been inspired by the album Mélodie passagère, recorded by the Italian singer Alice, probably the “subject” of the track on this album of the same name.) Once that “groundwork” has been established, Stenson exercises his own brand of freedom to weave his improvisations.

Taken as a whole, the prevailing rhetoric of this album is one of quietude. However, that quietude provides a setting for some imaginative approach to reflection. Those who do not always want their jazz to be hard-driving will find much to discover in how this trio can tease out different possibilities for improvising once they have established their source material.



The Bleeding Edge: 1/15/2018

2018-01-15T10:09:36.451-08:00

Once again, this will be a busy week of events, most of which have already been given advance notice on this site. Here is a quick summary with hyperlinks pointing to the details for those events:
  • Center for New Music: concerts on January 16, 17, 18, 20
  • January 17: this month’s Composers in Performance Series concert at the Canessa Gallery
  • January 19: this month’s program curated by Ben Tinker at Adobe Books
  • January 19–20: busy-weekend offerings from San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, the Community Music Center, and The Lab
That leaves only two other gigs, both of which overlap with events accounted for above:

Wednesday, January 17, 7:45 p.m., Peacock Lounge: Activities will resume in the New Year at this venue following the usual four-set format. Sets will be taken by the duo of guitarist Bruce Anderson working with the electronics of A.C. Way, the electronically enhanced group that calls itself Cube, Frank’s Tina Takes (a solo performance), and another solo set by violinist and vocalist Christina Stanley. The Peacock Lounge is located in the Lower Haight at 552 Haight Street. Admission for all will be $5.

Thursday, January 18, 8 p.m., Luggage Store Gallery (LSG): This week’s installment of Outsound Presents’ LSG Creative Music Series will be a two-set evening. The first set will be a duo improvisation by percussionist Mark Pino and Jack Hertz supplementing the drum work with electronics. They will be followed by the HUMMEL quintet, whose members are Brian Pederson on saxophone, cellists Shanna Sordahl and Sung Kim, and drummers Timothy Orr and Robert Lopez. LSG is located at 1007 Market Street, across from the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Taylor Street; and admission is on a sliding scale between $8 and $15.



The Challenge of Continuing the Art Song Tradition

2018-01-15T08:18:07.862-08:00

Of all the genres that respond to attentive listening, art song is probably the most challenging, for both composers and listeners, in our contemporary setting. This is particularly the case when the song is a setting of poetry, since the music constitutes a response to the poem as it has been written; and the capacity for reading (or listening to a reading of) poetry tends to be a challenge and has been so, probably for at least a hundred years. Indeed, the poet John Ciardi recognized the problem when he wrote the extended essay “How Does a Poem Mean?,” which was first published in 1959.On the composer’s side, the challenge is one of establishing how the structure of the music will relate to the structure of the poem. On the text side structure involves both overall architecture and lower-level details, such as rhyme scheme and figures of speech. Then there is the layer of semantics that addresses what the poem means, in addition to how it means. Finally, one must allow for the fact that many poems were written to be recited, rather than read, which means that matters of “expressive delivery” must also be taken into account. The composer than has to decide to what extent he will enhance any of these literary features and when he will deliberately choose to contrast them.Every other year LIEDER ALIVE! presents a Neue und Alte Liederfest program, which provides a platform to consider contemporary approaches to art song in the context of past traditions. Yesterday afternoon at the Noe Valley Ministry, LIEDER ALIVE! presented the latest installment in this project, entitled Neue Lieder, Neues Jahr! The program presented world premiere performances of songs by three composers, Composer-in-Residence Kurt Erickson, Luna Pearl Woolf, and Mark Carlson. The program also included a song by Henry Mollicone. All of the works by living composers involved reflections on settings of German poetry by composers that spanned the traditions of the nineteenth century.It is important to observe that the nineteenth century was a time when those who chose to listen to art song did not need any explanations when it came to either what or how a poem meant. Thus, yesterday’s program, which spanned musical practices extending from Franz Schubert to Richard Strauss, provided an abundant sampling of highly literate composers, each of whom developed his own toolkit for taking a poem as a foundation and then building an innovative reflection on the text’s structure, meaning, and/or expressiveness. However, detached nineteenth-century listeners may have been from the literary sources, these were songs that drew them into the spirit of those texts.It is thus important to acknowledge that yesterday’s performers, soprano Heidi Moss Erickson, mezzo Kindra Scharich, and pianist Ronny Michael Greenberg were are at the top of their game in leading attentive listeners into the respective domains of each of the songs performed. This was particularly evident when Erickson and Scharich presented the duets on the program. Their command of thirds and sixths, however familiar that idiom may be, never failed to engage the attentive listener, particularly since they always knew how to color those intervals to serve the needs of the text. For his part Greenberg could not have been a better accompanist, bringing a solid command of nineteenth-century techniques to provide each song with its proper context.Of the new works on the program, the one that most seemed to provide a contemporary reflection of past traditions was Mark Carlson’s duet setting of Eduard Mörike’s “An die Geliebte” (to the beloved). His setting was preceded by Scharich singing the version composed by Hugo Wolf. In his note for the program book Carlson asserted that he “assiduously avoided listening to the Hugo Wolf setting.” Nevertheless, he had no trouble capturing the spirit of the text. Furthermore, he seemed better attuned to the extent to which sentence structure departed from strophic s[...]



Choices for February 9 and 10, 2018

2018-01-14T10:51:35.954-08:00

The busy days during the first weekend in February have turned out to be Saturday and Sunday. However, on the second weekend the action seems to be concentrated on Friday and Saturday. This will involve considerable diversity in both styles and venues. Specifics are as follows:Friday, February 9, 8 p.m., Heron Arts: One Found Sound will return to Heron Arts to give the final concert in its fifth anniversary season. In anticipation of Mardi Gras, the title of the program will be A Major Carnival. In that festive spirit the ensemble has selected the symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven that Richard Wager once called the “apotheosis of the dance, the Opus 92 (seventh) symphony in A major. (Whether or not the key inspired the title of the program is left to the imagination of the reader.) The evening will begin with the string section playing Toru Takemitsu’s “The Dorian Horizon,” whose mystical rhetoric may be taken to evoke the Lenten solemnity that follows Mardi Gras.Heron Arts is located in SoMa at 7 Heron Street on the block between 7th Street and 8th Street. General admission tickets are being sold for $25 with a $45 VIP rate for reserved seating that includes an invitation to an OFS open rehearsal. Tickets may be purchased online in advance through an Eventbrite event page.Friday, February 9, 8 p.m., Herbst Theatre: The title of next month’s concert to be given by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is Harmonic Convergence. The title was chosen to honor the astronomer William Herschel, best known for having discovered the plant Uranus. Herschel was also a composer; and the second half of the program will begin with his eighth symphony in C minor, which will then be followed by Joseph Haydn’s Hoboken I/43 symphony in E-flat major, given the name “Mercury.” Haydn will also be featured in the first half of the program when cellist Steven Isserlis will appear as guest soloist in a performance of Haydn’s Hoboken VIIb/2 concerto in D major. This concerto selection will be preceded by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 129 symphony in G major.Herbst Theatre is located at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Ticket prices will range from $28 to $120 for premium seating. Tickets are currently available for advance purchase through a City Box Office event page, which displays a color-coded seating plan that shows which areas correspond to which price levels.Friday, February 9, 8 p.m., McKenna Theatre: The Morrison Artists Series, presented by the College of Liberal and Creative Arts at San Francisco State University (SFSU) will continue its 2017–2018 season with a visit from Zéphyros Winds. The program will offer wind quintet music by György Ligeti and Endre Szervánszky, as well as Mozart’s K. 388 serenade in C minor. The McKenna Theatre is in the Creative Arts Building at SFSU, a short walk from the SFSU Muni stop at the corner of 19th Avenue and Holloway Avenue. Tickets are free but advance registration is highly desirable. Reservations may be made through the event page for this concert but only beginning on January 19. As usual, there will be a pre-concert talk at 7 p.m., which will be given by Richard Festinger, Artistic Director of the Morrison Artists Series. Also as usual, the five members of this quintet will give a collective Master Class earlier in the day at 2 p.m. This two-hour session will take place in Knuth Hall, also in the Creative Arts Building, and will be open to the general public at no charge and with no requirements for tickets.Saturday, February 10, 3 p.m., Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin: Director of Music Eric Choate has arranged for a vocal recital to be given by soprano Winnie Nieh accompanied at the piano by Paul Dab. The first half of the program will feature a selection entitled The Art of Song. Nieh has selected poems by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Emanuel Geibel, and Paul Valéry, each of which has been set by more than one composer. [...]



Center for New Music: First Half of February, 2018

2018-01-13T10:39:01.031-08:00

As was the case with the Red Poppy Art House, the Calendar listings for the month of February at the Center for New Music (C4NM) have not yet extended beyond the middle of next month. Nevertheless, this is also a case for which making save-the-date plans is likely to be in order. C4NM is located at 55 Taylor Street, half a block north of the Golden Gate Theater, which is where Golden Gate Avenue meets Market Street. All of the events listed below will have the same $15 price for general admission; but there will be some variation regarding the discounted rate of $10, which will always apply to C4NM members. All tickets may be purchased in advance through a Vendini event page. Hyperlinks to the appropriate Web pages will be attached to each of the dates in the following summary:Friday, February 2, 7:30 p.m.: The month will begin with Heating Up, a preview concert for the annual Hot Air Music Festival, which will be taking place at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) throughout the day of Sunday, February 25. The festival, which is now in its ninth year, is produced each year by a “core committee” of SFCM students. It is a new music marathon that focuses on world premieres, collaborations by young composers and performers, and music written in the past 50 years. This preview will feature performances by Nicholas Denton-Protsack and the Siroko Duo. The duo, which consists of flutists Victoria Hauk and Jessie Nucho, performed at C4NM this past October in a partnership with the Guerrilla Composers Guild, which was founded by C4NM students.Wednesday, February 7, 8 p.m.: This will be a performance by the animals & giraffes duo, whose members are Phillip Greenlief on reeds and vocalist Claudia La Rocca, who provides the texts. The duo describes itself as “an interdisciplinary container for improvisation on and off the page;” and it is the current C4NM ensemble-in-residence. This program’s interdisciplinary efforts will be expanded to include dancer James Kidd and multi-instrumentalist Tara Jane Oneil. The performance will be the first time that all four of these performers have gathered together for an improvisation session. The discounted rate will also be available for students and the underemployed.Thursday, February 8, 7:30 p.m.: Adam Marks will curate a visit from New York by the Nouveau Classical Project (NCP). This is an all-women contemporary classical music ensemble that collaborates with visual artists and fashion designers. They will present a program entitled Currents, which will consist entirely of works commissioned by NCP. The ensemble will consist of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and electronics. The contributing composers will be Olga Bell, Gabrielle Herbst, and Isaac Schankler.Saturday, February 10, 8 p.m.: Dan Becker will curate a program entitled SOUTH. This will be a visit from Los Angeles by two composers, each of whom will showcase a piece that explores the space between mythology and history in the southern states of our country, extending from east to west. Alexander Elliott Miller will present TO…OBLIVION, a suite for electric guitar, sound effects, and video, each movement of which has been inspired by a historic site in Los Angeles. Ian Dicke’s contribution will be Cowboy Rounds, a song cycle for piano/vocalist and live electronic processing. Each of the seven songs is a remix of one of the songs collected as part of the field work conducted across the southern states in 1939 by ethnographers John and Ruby Lomax.Friday, February 16, 7:45 p.m.: Border Crossings will be an evening of new music that explores the borders between genres. The project was developed and realized by composers Peter Colclasure and Cellista (who, as her name suggests, is also a cellist). They will be joined by the rapper DEM ONE and the members of the Juxtapositions Chamber Ensemble.Saturday, February 17, 8 p.m.: Emma Logan will curate a visit by the Hubbar[...]



Choices for February 5, 2018

2018-01-12T13:32:55.643-08:00

It turns out that the need to make choices will extend beyond the first weekend of February. The Monday following that weekend will require, at least as of this writing, choosing between two events. Furthermore, both of those events are likely to appeal to those particularly interested in modernism; and they both will be taking place in the general Civic Center part of the city. Bearing in mind that there may be more to come, here are specifics regarding those two events:7:30 p.m., San Francisco Conservatory of Music: The title of the next concert to be presented by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble (LCCE) is Visions de l’Amen. This is also the title of a suite of seven movements composed by Olivier Messiaen in 1943 during the German occupation of Paris during the Second World War. The Hebrew word “amen” is a declaration of affirmation; and each of the movements of the suite entails the affirmation of a specific act of Divine Creation.Messiaen composed this suite, which tends to run about 45 minutes in duration, for two pianos. It was first performed in the Concerts de la Pléiade series; and the two pianists were Messiaen and his wife Yvonne Loriod. The two of them subsequently recorded their performance of the piece for Parlophone Records following the War, probably in 1949. For this concert LCCE pianist Eric Zivian will be joined by pianist Sarah Cahill. They will also give the premiere performances of two new works, also composed for two pianos: “Reverent Murmurs” by Philip Acimovic and “IV-I” by Chris Castro.This performance will take place in the SFCM Recital Hall. SFCM is located at 50 Oak Street, between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street and a short walk from the Van Ness Muni station. Tickets will be sold at the door for $35 for general admission and $18 for those under the age of 35. However, if the tickets are purchased in advance through a Vendini event page, the prices will be $30 for general admission and $15 for those under the age of 35. (The discount is applied after the number of tickets to be purchased is specified.) Those requiring further information may call 415-617-5223 (LCCE).7:30 p.m., Taube Atrium Theatre: Earplay will present the opening concert of its 33rd season in San Francisco. As usual the program, entitled A Delicate Arrangement of Sounds, will focus on premiere performances. Frank Bedrossian’s “I’m nobody, who are you?,” composed on an Earplay commission through the support of the Fromm Foundation, takes its title from a poem by Emily Dickinson. Its world premiere will be performed by the disarming combination of bass flute, contrabass clarinet, and viola. In addition, Richard Festinger’s 2003 song cycle Coming of Age will receive its West Coast premiere. Soprano Nikki Einfeld will perform will all six Earplay musicians playing flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and piano, respectively. The program will also include Bruce Christian Bennet’s 2015 “Small Art” for piano solo and, also on the theme of the visual arts, British composer Helen Grime’s set of three “Whistler Miniatures,” written for piano trio in 2011.The Diane and Tad Taube Atrium Theater is located on the fourth floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. General admission will be $25 with a $10 rate for students. There will also be a premium rate of $35 for preferred seating. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a Brown Paper Tickets event page.[...]



Schoenberg in a Well-Considered Context

2018-01-12T07:11:12.094-08:00

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall, composer Arnold Schoenberg was the focus of attention; and that focus was enhanced through the judicious selection of the compositions that preceded and followed his Opus 42 piano concerto. Pianist Emanuel Ax was the featured guest soloist of the San Francisco Symphony led by Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT), who introduced the concerto with a few remarks to provide a positive context for audience expectations. The concerto was composed in 1942 when Schoenberg was living in Los Angeles. The notes in the program book by Thomas May explained that Schoenberg had intended the concerto for Oscar Levant, who found it too difficult to perform.MTT, on the other hand, provided a perspective that made the music more accessible than many in the audience may have anticipated. MTT’s key message was, “Listen to the rhythm, not the atonality.” That remark reflected on an article that Virgil Thomson once wrote for The New York Review of Books, which asserted that, however hard Schoenberg may have tried to avoid establishing a tonal center, his rhythms remained firmly entrenched in Viennese tradition. MTT’s advice did the trick. For the listener who followed that advice, the four movements of the concerto (played without interruption) flowed by as a fresh perspective on the tradition of four-movement symphonic works from the nineteenth century.Arnold Schoenberg’s tone row with Viennese rhythms (from Wikipedia, fair use)One could thus appreciate Ax’s solo work just as one could appreciate his performance of concertos by earlier composers. Indeed, this is where the context card was played. Before taking on Schoenberg, Ax played Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 449 concerto in E-flat major, thus orienting the listener with regard to the relationship between concerto soloist and ensemble. However, this selection also reflected the fact that, as a teacher, Schoenberg had tremendous respect for Mozart, often writing about how Mozart, too, had been innovative in his approaches to making music. The program as a whole thus became a sort of yesterday-and-today reflection on how the idea of a piano concerto had developed between 1784 and 1942.MTT then chose to follow the Schoenberg concerto with one of Richard Strauss’ tone poems, his Opus 28 “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks.” This may have struck some as an incongruous juxtaposition. However, Strauss was another composer that Schoenberg admired, including examples from his scores in his textbooks. Furthermore, Opus 28 is yet another reflection of that Viennese tradition, much of which is evoked by the lilting rhythm that begins the tone poem and many of the rhythmic patterns that subsequently unfold. Thus, the “Mozart-Schoenberg-Strauss trinity” emerged somewhat as an apotheosis of the spirit of Vienna, which endured through so many different stylistic periods.The overture for the evening was also Viennese, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 72a, the third of his “Leonore” overtures (the name coming from the early versions of the opera that would eventually be performed as Fidelio). Ironically, Beethoven did not quite fit in with that trinity; but then not fitting in tended to be one of that composer’s signature traits. The overture was definitely good for getting the juices flowing, but it never felt quite like the proper way to introduce a Mozart concerto. Nevertheless, MTT’s spirited account was definitely consistent with the engaging rhetorical techniques he summoned subsequently to take us through the different ages of Viennese tradition.[...]



Choices for February 3–4, 2018

2018-01-13T08:47:35.117-08:00

The first weekend in February will be another busy one. However, at least for now, only Saturday and Sunday will require making choices. Those choices will be among diverse offerings, but they are still likely to be difficult. Here is where things stand (bearing in mind that additions to these alternatives may appear subsequently):[added 1/12, 11:50 a.m.:Friday, February 2, 8 p.m., Saturday, February 3,  2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday, February 4, 2 p.m., Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA): This will be the weekend of the next production of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta by Lamplighters Music Theatre. As indicated above, there will be a performance on Friday, as well as on the dates singled out in the headline above. The operetta will be The Gondoliers, whose plot involves not only the usual surprise relationships but also some very clever takes on the distinctions between a monarchy and a republic. The conductor will be Music Director Baker Peeples, and the production will be staged by Phil Lowery.The theater is located at 700 Howard Street on the northwest corner of Third Street. Premium Orchestra tickets are $59, those in Center Terrace and the remainder of the Orchestra are $49, and those in the Side Terrace and Boxes are $44. Seniors (aged 62 or older) are entitled to a $5 discount in all sections; and a $10 discount per ticket is available for a Group Rate of ten or more tickets. $20 tickets are available in all sections for children (aged seventeen and under), students (aged 25 and under), and K-12 educators. Finally, student rush tickets are available one hour prior to each performance for only $15 with presentation of appropriate identification. The Box Office can be reached by telephone at 415-978-2787. A single Web page has been created with hyperlinks for purchasing tickets for each of the four performances. The Box Office is closed on Mondays and opens at 11 a.m. on all other days. It closes at 8 p.m. on Thursdays and closes at 6 p.m. on the remaining days. The Box Office also opens 90 minutes prior to each performance.] Saturday, February 3, 7:30 p.m., Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church: The Chamber Music Society of San Francisco (CMSSF) will give its next San Francisco concert. Regular readers probably know by now that this is the name of the string quartet founded by violinists Natasha Makhijani and Jory Fankuchen, violist Clio Tilton, and cellist Samsun van Loon (all of whom are now also playing as members of the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra). The title of the program will be Love and Loss, and it will feature Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 80 quartet in F minor. This quartet was written after the death of the composer’s sister Fanny, and it is one of Mendelssohn’s most intense expressions of emotional anguish.In addition, clarinetist Steve Sánchez will again return as guest artist. About a year ago Sánchez joined CMSSF for a performance of Johannes Brahms’ Opus 115 quintet in B minor. This time the selection will be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 581 quintet in A major. Like the Brahms quintet, K. 581 was written relatively late in the composer’s short life.This concert is expected to last about two hours. Holy Innocent’s Episcopal Church is located in the Mission at 455 Fair Oaks Street. Ticket prices at the door will be $25 with a $5 rate for those aged eighteen and under. Tickets may be purchased online in advance through an Eventbrite event page; and an “Early Bird” rate of only $20 for general admission will be available until the end of January 14.Saturday, February 3, 7:30 p.m., Herbst Theatre: The next concert to be offered by the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts will be a solo performance by iconic American guitarist Leo Kottke. Kottke will be playing both six-string and twelve-string guitars. Program details have not yet been released, and the se[...]



Carl Schuricht’s Unconventional Tastes

2018-01-11T10:45:26.814-08:00

courtesy of Naxos of AmericaCarl Schuricht was one of those conductors whom I knew as a student only by name in conjunction with having recorded the music of Gustav Mahler. His Wikipedia page includes the following sentence:His career was not that of a star but he was loved both by the orchestra members and audience.It turns out that his Mahler connection was stronger than I could have anticipated, since he was responsible for arranging the first German festival honoring Mahler in April of 1921. At that festival he conducted five of the symphonies (2, 3, 5, 6, and 7), as well as “Das Lied von der Erde.” This festival was held in Wiesbaden, which had a reputation for organizing festivals of modern music conducted by Schuricht. Thus, Schuricht not only conducted Mahler but also Richard Strauss, Max Reger, Frederick Delius, and Arnold Schoenberg.His efforts in Wiesbaden were probably inspired by a festival he attended in Essen in 1906, where he most likely heard the premiere of Mahler’s sixth symphony. More interesting, however, was that the festival also presented “Sea Drift,” a symphonic poem based on a text extracted from Walt Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” composed by Frederick Delius for orchestra, chorus, and baritone soloist. Delius was present for the occasion. The music appealed to Schuricht so much that he met Delius and promised him that he would conduct it himself once he had an orchestra to lead. Delius would later attend that performance in Frankfurt.The recordings listed on Schuricht’s Wikipedia page give little indication of his interest in straying from the “beaten path” repertoire. Fortunately, this past Friday Urania Records released a two-CD album of Schuricht conducting works that will probably be unfamiliar to just about all listeners other than those with a passion for digging up obscurities. In the context of his past history, the album includes a recording of “Sea Drift” (sung in German, rather than the original English) made in Stuttgart in 1963 with Schuricht conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and baritone soloist Carlos Alexander.However, this Delius track is but the tip of a thoroughly impressive iceberg. The bulk of the iceberg can be found on the first CD of the album, which is devoted entirely to Robert Schumann’s Opus 115, Manfred: Dramatic Poem with Music in Three Parts. Composed in 1852, this was an adaptation of Lord Byron’s “Manfred,” completed in 1817, which he also called a “dramatic poem.” The title character is tortured with guilt over past acts that are never named; yet his death amounts to a liberating end to it all, rather than a conveyance to either heaven or hell. (As might be guessed, this poem was a significant inspiration for Friedrich Nietzsche.)The bulk of Opus 115 is melodrama, recitation often against limited instrumental accompaniment. However, there is also an overture (which gets some exposure in the usual concert repertoire), orchestral interludes separating the parts, and vocal work for both soloists and a chorus. On the recording Schuricht conducts the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with the Chorus prepared by Chorus Master Werner Illing. The text is in German; and, as a result, there is little sense of Byron’s poetry. As a result, some may find the inclusion of the melodrama sections a bit of overkill; but there is still the because-its-there satisfaction of having a recording that accounts for the entire score.The second CD concludes with “Sea Drift” and is preceded by four overtures that receive little, if any, attention in current concert (or recording) programming. The performance of these overtures again involve the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, and the recordings were probably also made in 1952. The selection m[...]



Erato to Release Heggie’s Opera About Opera

2018-01-16T09:29:42.702-08:00

from Amazon.comHoly Roman Emperor Joseph II may not have been the first to recognize that opera singers, themselves, would make excellent characters in an opera; but he is probably the best known to have actually followed through on the idea. Indeed, his results were double-barreled, so to speak, since they resulted in a competition that involved not only composers but also their nationalities. To add to the fun, Joseph arranged for the two resulting operas to be presented at opposite ends of the same room in his Schönbrunn Palace.As might be guessed, the better known of those operas was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 486 one-act singspiel “Der Schauspieldirektor” (the impresario). Also as might be guessed, Mozart was competing against Antonio Salieri, who wrote the one-act “Prima la musica e poi le parole” (first the music and then the words). During the twentieth century Richard Strauss came up with his own take on turning opera singers into opera characters with his Opus 60 Ariadne auf Naxos. Later on in the century the idea departed from the opera house and migrated to the dramatic stage. This was when Ken Ludwig wrote Lend Me a Tenor, whose script orbits around an American production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello while showing at least a few signs of influence from Michael Frayn’s theater-about-theater play Noises Off. Most recently, in 2015, the Dallas Opera presented the premiere of Great Scott, an opera composed by Jake Heggie using a libretto by Terrence McNally that takes on the challenges of producing opera in the 21st century. A two-CD album based on recordings made during the Dallas performances will be released by Erato this coming Friday; and, as is usually the case, Amazon.com has set up a Web page for taking pre-orders.There is no questioning that this is a fun opera. Listening to the recording, you know this as soon as you realize that Gioachino Rossini has been shamelessly appropriated in the overture. Those familiar with Strauss’ Opus 60 will probably find bits and pieces of it lurking in the score pages; and, if I had a keener ear (and the benefit of looking at the scores themselves), I would not be surprised to trip over both Mozart and Salieri. There is also a bit of Noises Off in the libretto, with a first act involving rehearsal, while the second act takes on performance. Nevertheless, McNally knew exactly how to make this a distinctively American opera that would be particularly suitable for Dallas audiences. It does not take long for the plot to form around the fact that the premiere of a new opera will be competing with the Super Bowl.Nevertheless, while listening to this recording, my primary reaction was “I wish I had been there!” Since the booklet does not include McNally’s text, I quickly realized that any number of witty moments were probably flying by with only supertitles to sustain them. (I suppose one might say, smugly, “That is why this is opera and not musical comedy!”) Still, one can appreciate that the participating vocalists (including Joyce DiDonato, Frederica von Stade, Nathan Gunn, Ailyn Pérez, and Anthony Roth Costanza) had no end of fun bringing this work to the opera stage. Even when McNally resorts to a cheap shot to get a laugh from the audience (audible on this recording), one can still ride on the crest of the consistently high spirits of the music itself. Indeed, when one considers the intense seriousness of most of Heggie’s operatic output, Great Scott is enough to make one wish that he would try his hand at comedy more often.[...]



Dutoit to Leave Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

2018-01-10T12:28:13.321-08:00

As was reported last month, when the news broke concerning accusations of sexual misconduct declared against conductor Charles Dutoit, the San Francisco Symphony announced that it would server all ties with him. This included not only his scheduled visit as guest conductor in April but also his leading the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) during their visit to Davies Symphony Hall at the end of this month. Apparently, San Francisco was not the only city to react this way; and the RPO tour has been divided between two conductors. Pinchas Zukerman is conducting all appearances east of the Mississippi River; and those to the west, including the two Davies concerts, will be led by Thierry Fischer.

Pinchas Zukerman conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (from the RPO tour Web page)

Today Michael Cooper reported in The New York Times that the RPO released a statement that Dutoit’s resignation would take immediate effect. Dutoit continues to seek legal counsel to defend himself. However, the resignation decision took place yesterday after the RPO Board of Directors held an emergency meeting to consult with Dutoit. The board called Dutoit’s position “untenable,” releasing a statement declaring that the RPO was “committed to the highest standards of ethical behavior and takes very seriously its responsibility to maintain a safe working environment for all its artists, musicians and staff.”



Red Poppy Art House: First Half of February, 2018

2018-01-10T10:54:15.345-08:00

Things are beginning to ramp up for next month at the Red Poppy Art House. As of this writing, only three events have been listed for the first half of next month; but it is not too early to start making save-the-date plans, particularly since February is shaping up to be a very busy month. Therefore, I have decided to limit this article to plans for the first half of the month; and, if any additional concerts are added within that span, I shall update this article, using my “shadow” Facebook site to notify readers when those updates appear.The Red Poppy is located in the Mission at 2698 Folsom Street on the southwest corner of 23rd Street. Tickets are now being sold in advance online through Eventbrite. As a result, the dates provided below will be hyperlinked to the Eventbrite event pages for purchasing tickets. Given the demand for these concerts, it is likely that only a limited number of tickets will be available at the door. Remember, the Poppy is a small space. Even those who have purchased their tickets in advance should probably make it a point to be there when the doors open one half-hour before the performance is scheduled to begin. Here are the specifics for those three events that have been posted thus far:Friday, February 2, 8 p.m.: Visiting from Brooklyn (New York), gina Breedlove describes herself as “a singer, songwriter, sound healer, and medicine woman.” Her style is predominantly a mix of folk and soul but with undertones of Red Dirt blues, which first emerged on Red Dirt Records in 1972. She will perform with a rhythm section consisting of Julie Wolf on piano and Ruth Price on percussion. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $20 and $25.All the members of Taraf de Akácfa (courtesy of the Red Poppy Art House)Thursday, February 8, 7:30 p.m.: The geographical focus will shift from “blues country” to Eastern Europe with a visit by Taraf de Akácfa, which is based in Budapest. This is a six-piece ensemble with a repertoire that encompasses Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Transylvania. As of this writing, only five of the six instrumentalists will be making the tour. These will be Lulu de la Rue (violin), Johannes Olsson (accordion), Ion Curteanu (cimbalom), Isaac Misri (guitar), and Ábel Dénes (bass). Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20.Saturday, February 10, 7:30 p.m.: For straight-ahead jazz, Mark Zaleski will be visiting from Boston, bringing both alto and soprano saxophones. He is calling his concert High-Energy Jazz, and he will be using it to celebrate the release of his second album, Days, Months, Years. His rhythm section will consist of Malcolm Campbell on piano, Doug Stewart on bass, and Colin McDaniel on drums. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20.[...]



Italy’s Disappointing Modernist Journey

2018-01-10T08:03:29.067-08:00

Yesterday afternoon the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco hosted its latest musical event. Italian pianist Marino Nahon and South Korean soprano Joo Cho presented a program entitled Il cammino della voce (the journey of the voice). This amounted to a survey of modernism as practiced by twentieth-century Italian composers. The earliest piece was Gian Francesco Malipiero’s settings of two sonnets by the sixteenth-century Italian poet Francesco Berni, which were first published in 1922; and the program spilled over into the almost-immediate present with the piano movement from Gabriele Cosmi’s cycle So ancora che visse (I still know he lived) and Corrado Rojac’s “quando suona l’acqua” (when the water plays), both of which were completed last year.

Malipiero was one of those “retrospective” modernists, who rejected nineteenth-century practices by looking back to pre-Classical practices, hence his interest in sixteenth-century sonnets. Nevertheless, while Giacomo Puccini is never mentioned on Malipiero’s Wikipedia page, the second of his two sonnet settings comes across almost like a love letter to “Gianni Schicchi.” More significantly, Malipiero was the only composer on the program who set words in such a way that both their perception and their semantics would be readily apprehended by the listener. These were the only selections that allowed Cho to demonstrate vocal sensitivity to the text, and she executed them admirably.

All of the other works performed had texts that seem to have been approached as if phonemes were another source of sonority to be worked into fabrics taking in a wide range of pitches, an equally wide range of dynamics, and irregular rhythms. There was no questioning the impressive skill of both Cho and Nahon in negotiating the complexity of the scores they had selected to present. However, the very idea that those phonemes contributed to a hierarchy of words, phrases, and concepts seems to have gotten lost in the “dark wood” (selva oscura) of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno.

To be fair, quite a few composers (and not all of them Italian) got lost in that “dark wood,” particularly in the decades following the conclusion of the Second World War. It took a walloping blow to get that pendulum to swing back in the opposite direction; but composers such as Philip Glass (singled out because of the current anniversary celebrations) eventually managed to reverse the pendulum swing. These days we are more likely to recall all of those complex legacies not through concert performances but through the parodies that Humphrey Searle composed for the Hoffnung Music Festival concerts under the pseudonym of Bruno Heinz Jaja. (His The Barber of Darmstadt included a setting of the “Who was that lady I saw you with last night” joke declaimed in German Sprechgesang.)



SFP to Honor Philip Glass with Two Events

2018-01-09T12:09:00.874-08:00

Philip Glass (courtesy of San Francisco Performances)Composer Philip Glass was born on January 31, 1937; and much of the year following his 80th birthday has involved worldwide celebration of the occasion. Indeed, here in San Francisco that celebration will spill over beyond the end of this month. Most significantly, San Francisco Performances (SFP) has scheduled two events to honor Glass during the month of February.The first of these will take place two days after Glass turns 81. On Playing Glass will be a recital that will bring the Kronos Quartet together with pianist Timo Andres. Readers may recall that Andres was one of the two pianists that joined Glass for a performance of his complete set of twenty piano etudes, which SFP presented in its Special Events series in March of 2015. (The other pianist was Maki Namekawa, who had recorded all of the etudes for Orange Mountain Music.) Kronos’ relationship with Glass goes back even further, since his “Company” string quartet was released in August of 1986 on the group’s very first recording for Nonesuch, which was entitled simply Kronos Quartet.This recital will be supplemented with a group discussion about the experiences of both working with Glass and playing his music. Andres will again play selections from the piano etudes. Kronos, in turn, will play selected movements from all of the quartets that Glass has composed, of which “Company,” originally composed in 1983 for a monodrama staging of a text by Samuel Beckett of the same name, was the second.This performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, February 2. The venue will be Herbst Theatre, whose entrance is the main entrance to the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. The venue is excellent for public transportation, since that corner has Muni bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel. Ticket prices are $45 for premium seating in the Orchestra and the front and center of the Dress Circle, $35 for the Side Boxes, the center rear of the Dress Circle, and the remainder of the Orchestra, and $25 for the remainder of the Dress Circle and the Balcony. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a City Box Office event page.The “main event” of the month, however, will be a concert entitled Philip Glass @ 80. The program will consist of a single composition, “Music with Changing Parts.” This was probably Glass’ first evening-length work (lasting about 90 minutes). He composed it after his first major public concert, which took place at the Guggenheim Museum in January of 1970. Each of the three pieces on that program was about twenty minutes long and was based on a process that involved the interplay of repetition and change. (Those familiar with this site should by now be aware that Glass has never particularly like the word “minimalism,” preferring instead to call pieces like these “music with repetitive structures.”)Like the pieces played at the Guggenheim, “Music with Changing Parts” was written for the composer’s own Philip Glass Ensemble, which was relatively modest in its size (about half a dozen members). However, in the interest of making Philip Glass @ 80 a truly memorable and celebratory occasion, SFP has chosen to take an approach that comes close to involving a “cast of thousands.” Current membership of the Philip Glass Ensemble still involves only eleven performers, including Glass himself on keyboards and Michael Riesman conducting from a keyboard. For this performance, however, they will be joined by the members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus (over 40 of them) and both brass and woodwind students from the San Fr[...]



Hadelich Debuts on Warner with Paganini

2018-01-08T12:23:45.894-08:00

from Amazon.comSan Francisco readers may recall that, this past October, violinist Augustin Hadelich returned to perform as a soloist with the San Francisco Symphony. His selection could not have been more mainstream: Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 64 concerto in E minor. Nevertheless, working with conductor Krzysztof Urbański, Hadelich won over his audience by demonstrating that even the most familiar compositions can allow for interpretations that were fresh and new without coming across as provocatively destructive.His biographical statement in the program book explained that he had recently signed an exclusive recording contract with Warner Classics and that the first recording to be released under that contract would be the complete set of 24 caprices for solo violin that Niccolò Paganini published as his Opus 1. Here in San Francisco Hadelich offered a “sneak preview” of the recording by performing the 21st of those caprices as his post-concerto encore. Even without taking advance publicity into account, this could not have been a better selection, since Hadelich had just managed to bring a compelling sense of intimacy to his treatment of the cadenzas that Mendelssohn had written out (in full detail) for his violin concerto. Hadelich’s encore resonated with that same capacity for intimacy.Warner will release its recording of Hadelich playing Opus 1 in its entirety this coming Friday. As usual, Amazon.com is processing pre-orders for those wishing be “first on the block” to experience Hadelich’s approach to the full set. While I have absolutely no skills at playing any bowed string instrument, I have had a long-standing interest in this collection, going all the way back to buying the Turnabout reissue of Ruggiero Ricci recording the complete Opus 1 set for Vox in 1975. I even made it a point to add the CD reissue of that recording on the alto label to my current collection.Paganini clearly wanted to demonstrate that these caprices were more than just finger-busting challenges for a violinist wishing to establish his/her reputation. He wanted to appeal to the serious listener as much as to the ambitious performer. Thus, one can enjoy not only the technical challenges but also Paganini’s attention to matters of harmony, counterpoint, rhythm, and, in the final caprice, the diverse scope of variations on a theme. That latter element would have a major impact on composers who were not necessarily focused all the time on the violin, such as Johannes Brahms and Sergei Rachmaninoff.Nevertheless, I am not sure that this is the sort of album that allows for beginning-to-end listening. Hadelich’s CD lasts a little more than 80 minutes, and that is quite an interval of time during which to endure one display of virtuoso technique after another. As a listener I prefer to approach Opus 1 as a box of truly fine chocolates. Gobbling them all up as soon as you open the box is virtually an insult to the chocolatier. Much more is to be gained for savoring them one at a time, each distanced far enough from the others to avoid external influences.Mind you, this album was the product of only nine days of recording sessions; so Hadelich himself was not quite as strong an advocate of distance as I have become! Nevertheless, each caprice is the well-crafted effort of a violin virtuoso who cares as much about listening as he does about technical execution. This is a must-listen recording that will probably appeal to those familiar with the selections as much as those just getting to know many (if not most) of them.[...]



Conductor for RPO Visit Announced

2018-01-08T10:37:07.497-08:00

Last month’s preview announcement of the visit of the London-based Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) to Davies Symphony Hall provided all of the usual information about soloists and program content. However, both the RPO and the San Francisco Symphony (SFS), which is hosting this visit as part of its Great Performers Series, had severed all ties with Charles Dutoit last month in reaction to accusations of sexual misconduct made against the conductor. Thus, when the program details for the RPO visit were announced, information about a substitute conductor was not yet available.

Thierry Fischer (photograph by Marco Borggreve, courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony)

This morning SFS announced that the conductor for the two RPO concerts will be Thierry Fischer. Fischer is currently Music Director of the Utah Symphony, a position that began in 2009 and has been extended under contract until 2022. He is also Principal Guest Conductor for the Seoul Philharmonic and has been so since January of 2017. His most recent recording with the Utah Symphony was of Gustav Mahler’s eighth symphony (“Symphony of a Thousand”) in E-flat major; and it was released by Reference Recordings this past November. His earlier recording of the first (“Titan”) symphony in D major was released in September of 2015. To the best of my knowledge, this will be his first appearance in Davies.

All previously announced information about tickets, as well as program content, is still valid.



The Bleeding Edge: 1/8/2018

2018-01-08T08:55:53.389-08:00

Things are gradually getting back up to speed. Four of the events on this week’s BayImproviser Calendar have already been taken into account:January 8: Tonight’s Monday Make-Out at the Make Out Room was announced last week to avoid waiting until the last minute.January 11: Similarly, this week’s installment of the LSG (Luggage Store Gallery) Creative Music Series has already been announced. However, the order of the sets has been changed. Howard Ryan will open to perform S N I C K E R S with live Internet connectivity to Sam Sharp in Minneapolis. He will be followed by Gabby Yi Wen’s all-electronics set; and Matt Carney’s “Silo Homes” will conclude the program.January 12: The first concert of the year at the Center for New Music (C4NM) will be Punk in Times of War.January 13: This will be the night that the Red Poppy Art House presents the jazz performance entitled Bye Bye Bartok – Reimagining Great Symphonic & Chamber Themes.That leaves three other events for the week, one of which will overlap the C4NM concert:Tuesday, January 9, 8 p.m., Gray Area: Once again Gray Area is offering a performance that has been “filtered out” by my aforementioned “finer mesh.” Ryoji Ikeda is both an electronic composer and a visual artist based in Japan. He is interested in the essential characteristics of sound itself, which means that he deals with frequencies at minute levels of specification. He is also interested in those frequencies that are beyond the range of human perception. He has developed his own mathematical methods the shape music in terms of both time and space.In 2013 he released an album entitled supercodex. As he put it, the album explored the potential between “data of sound” and “sound of data.” Ikeda will visit Gray Area to give a live performance of material from the supercodex album. The title of the concert will be supercodex [live set].The Gray Area Art And Technology Theater is located in the Mission at 2665 Mission Street. General admission will be $50 at the door. Tickets may be purchased in advance online, but only for a limited time, through an Eventbrite event page. Only those aged 18 or older will be admitted. Doors will open at 7 p.m.Friday, January 12, 9 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: Drummer Allison Miller will be visiting from New York to perform as guest artist for a reunion of the “Reasons for Moving” trio. The members of this group are guitar iconoclast Fred Frith, saxophonist Larry Ochs (one of the founders of the Rova Saxophone Quartet), and trumpeter Darren Johnston. Bird & Beckett is located at 653 Chenery Street, a short walk from the Glen Park station for both Muni and BART. The collections of books and records are pretty impressive, so be prepared for the urge to buy something there! There is no charge for admission, but donations will be greatly appreciated.Sunday, January 14, 7:30 p.m., Musicians Union Hall: This will be the first concert of the year in the Static Illusion Methodical Madness (SIMM) Series offered by Outsound Presents. The evening will consist of the usual format of two sets of inventive composition work. The first set will offer the first one-on-one duo performance by pianist Feona Lee Jones and drummer Moe! Staiano, working from a structured form that allows room for improvisations. They will be followed by the Peter Kuhn Quartet led by Kuhn on woodwinds. He will play with a rhythm section consisting of Chris Brown on piano, Scott Walton on bass, and Kjell Nordeson on percussion. The Musicians Union Hall is located at 116 9th Street, near the corner of Mission [...]



The Spirit Eludes the Vajra Voices

2018-01-08T07:09:57.521-08:00

Yesterday afternoon in St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, the San Francisco Early Music Society presented its first San Francisco performance of the New Year with a program entitled Annus Novus: One Yeare Begins. The subtitle promised offerings of “Medieval Poetry Music & Magic,” presented by the nine vocalists of Vajra Voices, Lindsey McLennan Burdick, Amy Stuart Hunn, Allison Zelles Lloyd, Phoebe Jevtovic Rosquist, Cheryl Shafer Moore, and Celeste Winant led by Director Karen R. Clark. Instrumental accompaniment was provided by Shira Kammen (medieval harp and vielle) and Kit Higginson (recorders and psaltery). Higginson also contributed the “Magic” element of the program.On the surface the afternoon promised to offer an interesting survey of the early centuries of polyphony and the chant practices from which it emerged, the twelfth through the fifteenth. The first half featured Hildegard von Bingen, whose highly melismatic chants may have been sung against one or more drone tones, as well as selections from manuscripts kept at the Abbey of Saint Martial in Limoges (France). The organum (another practice of melismatic chanting against a drone tone) in these manuscripts characterize what is called the “Saint Marital School,” a precursor of the better known Notre Dame School, based on the practices of Léonin and Pérotin in Paris. A Pérotin organum, the three-part “Alleluia nativitas,” opened the second half of the program, followed by selections of music by Guillaume de Machaut and anonymous English carols from the fifteenth century.The opening page of Pérotin’s “Alleluia nativitas” (from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)As might be guessed, there is no “definitive” way in which this music should be performed. Indeed, once we get beyond liturgical music for church services, we have very little hard specific evidence of what music would be performed for what reasons. The same can be said for the approach to vocal execution.The key disappointment yesterday afternoon was that the nine vocalists chose not to agree on a common approach to execution. Several of them settled on the relatively straightforward delivery the usual plainchant practice, while the higher voices tended to soar into their melismas with the sort of ecstasy that we associate with the mystical side of Hildegard’s work. Clark, on the other hand, has a solid operatic contralto voice; and she was never shy about using it that way.Furthermore, while there was much to gather from listening to each of the selections being offered, the program was overloaded with more than the average mind (and, perhaps, even the scholarly one) could hold in a single sitting (even with an intermission). The instrumental interjections from Kammen and Higginson provided welcome departures from voice-only selections. However, the problem of attention surfaced early on, when Higginson’s deft sleight-of-hand work with what is known as the Chinese linking rings illusion pretty much drew all focus away from the Hildegard antiphon serving as “background music.”If sustained attention was problematic, the reason may have been that Higginson’s illusions offered the most well-defined sense of spontaneity of the afternoon. Execution of the music, on the other hand, was dutiful but with little sense of a motivating spirit. Yet the liturgical repertoire, including the emergence of polyphony, was all about the spirit; and it would be reasonable to assume that making music away from the church would be similarly motivated by human interests such as love and war. The idea of ma[...]



Gould Before his Break with Public Concerts

2018-01-07T10:21:30.460-08:00

courtesy of Naxos of AmericaLast year was when I first began to take an interest in historical recordings released by Urania Records. As readers can probably guess (if they do not actually recall), I was attracted to Urania for their recordings of pianist Sviatoslav Richter, both of which were two-CD sets. The first of these came out at the beginning of April and consisted entirely of piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven. This was followed by the July release of an album that devoted one CD to Franz Schubert and the second to Franz Liszt.The most recent of these two-CD albums was released this past Friday; and the pianist now being presented in Glenn Gould. The collection consists almost entirely of works for piano and orchestra, the only exception being Beethoven’s WoO 80 set of 32 variations in C minor. As of this writing, Amazon.com has yet to offer it in physical form; but it is available for download as an MP3 album.Those familiar with Gould’s biography will know that all of these recordings were made before April 10, 1964, the date of his last public performance. Not one to mince words. Gould called the institution of the public concert a “force of evil” and even laid out his argument in a manifesto given the acronym GPAADAK for “Gould Plan for the Abolition of Applause and Demonstrations of All Kinds.” One of the more notorious instances of his ideology came on April 6, 1962, when he performed Johannes Brahms Opus 15 (first) concerto in D minor with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Due to a disagreement over tempo, Bernstein preceded the performance by addressing the audience to absolve himself of responsibility for the results.Ironically, the Urania collection begins with that same concerto recorded only half a year later on October 9 with Peter Adler conducting the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The tempo is, indeed, slower than what many would wish to associate with this concerto; but, to be fair, there is no metronome marking in the Breitkopf & Härtel edition of Brahms’ collected works edited by Hans Gál. The only tempo marking is Maestoso. “Majesty” has connotations of stateliness, which would mark a significant departure from the tendency of many conductors to play the movement as if it were a Mahlerian Stürmisch bewegt (the tempo marking for the second movement of that composer’s fifth symphony, which translates as “moving stormily”). Perhaps Gould was aware of Bernstein’s tendency to bring out the Sturm und Drang (storm and drive) in all things and was determined to push the pendulum in the opposite direction.If that were the case, then there is no questioning my siding with Gould. The fact is that Brahms crammed an awful lot of notes into the first movement of his Opus 15 concerto, not only for the piano soloist but also for the ensemble. Churning up a stormy rhetoric runs the risk that many of those notes will get lost in the bombast. Both Gould and Adler seem to have shared the opinion that the audience should have the best possible opportunity to listen to all of those notes; and, while the recording technology has its limitations, this is a refreshingly clear account of a youthful, but still well-considered, effort.The other concerto included in this album could not be more different, Beethoven’s Opus 19 (second) concerto in B-flat major. This recording was made in Stockholm on October 5, 1958 with Georg Ludwig Jochum conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Like the Brahms concerto, this is an early composition; but its rhet[...]



Humanities West Offers Jazz++ Lecture-Performance

2018-01-07T08:32:28.144-08:00

Jazz trumpeter Erik Jekabson (from his Web site, photograph by Scott Chernis)

Those who follow the lecture offerings from Humanities West know that the programs frequently embellish the lecture material with musical performances. However, next month’s offering will focus on a musical topic and will be presented in collaboration with the Berkeley-based California Jazz Conservatory (formerly known as the Jazzschool for those of us with longer memories). The title of the offering is Blues, Jazz, & Rock’n’Roll; and it will be presented as a single evening session lasting about two and one-half hours.

The structure will consist of a lecture by Robert Greenberg interleaved with performance examples. The performers will be the members of the Erik Jekabson Quartet (Jekabson on trumpet and rhythm provided by Grant Levin on piano, Tommy Folen on bass, and David Flores on drums), along with percussionist John Santos. Greenberg’s lecture will encompass more than half a century of music-making, beginning with “early jazz" (as Gunther Schuller called it in the title of his magisterial volume) beginning in New Orleans and progressing up the Mississippi River. He will survey different approaches to playing jazz, such as swing in the Thirties and the emergence of bebop in the Forties. In the Fifties jazz became more experimental, while popular culture turned to rock ’n’ roll, which became a harbinger of the the social unrest of the Sixties.

This presentation will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 1. The venue will be the Marines’ Memorial Theatre, located at 609 Sutter Street, just off Union Square. Tickets will be $60 in the orchestra section and $45 in the balcony. Individual teacher and student balcony tickets will be sold for $25. (Note that the Marines’ Memorial Theatre does not have an elevator to the balcony level and that the orchestra level is on the second floor of the Marines’ Memorial building.) Tickets may be purchased in advance online from a City Box Office event page or by calling City Box Office at 415-392-4400.



Canessa Gallery to Host an Album Release

2018-01-06T12:03:50.358-08:00

from the Facebook Events page

The next concert coming to the Composers in Performance Series curated by the Meridian Gallery and held at the Canessa Gallery will be a release show for an album entitled monument 36. The album is a product of (((arc))), described by its participants as “a process rather than an author, a curve within a void which makes something momentarily visible.” How such a phrase structure may be interpreted most likely resides solely with any individual experiencing what emerges from that process.

The program will be in three sets, each of which will present a different aspect of the (((arc))) process. The order of the sets is uncertain. However, the contributions are as follows:
  1. Kaori Suzuki is a composer of electronic and electroacoustic music. She takes a spatial approach to structure with a preference for the highest achievable levels of amplitude. Taking the natural resonances of the room as a point of departure, what results is the intense acoustic density of saturated frequency interactions.
  2. PVBLIC BATH is the name of a solo audio/video presentation by arthur katrina.
  3. syrnx will involve an extended elongation of polyrhythmic drumming.
This concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 17. The Canessa Gallery is located at 708 Montgomery Street, right on the “border” between the Financial District and North Beach. Admission is between $5 and $15, payable at the door and/or collected between sets.



Vardanega Memorializes Kapell at O1C?

2018-01-06T07:11:33.633-08:00

Before beginning my account of the program that pianist Audrey Vardanega prepared for last night’s Old First Concerts recital at Old First Presbyterian Church, I would like to reflect a bit on one of the more impressive pianists of the twentieth century. I first really learned about William Kapell through an article in The New York Review of Books, which discussed RCA Victor’s release of Kapell’s complete authorized recordings as a nine-CD box set. Kapell was one of those child prodigies who went on to become one of the major pianists in the years following the Second World War. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 31 on October 29, 1953. He had just completed a tour of Australia, and his return flight crashed while trying to land in the San Francisco fog.That RCA collection has only one CD of Kapell playing chamber music, but he kept some excellent company. The album consists of three sonatas, one each for violin, viola, and cello. The violinist was Jascha Heifetz playing Johannes Brahms’ Opus 108 in D minor. Violist William Primrose also played Brahms, the first (in F minor) of the Opus 120 sonatas originally written for clarinet. The cello sonata was Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Opus 19 in G minor with Edmund Kurtz taking the cello part.I offer this as background to explain why last night’s concert left me with strong reverberations of nostalgia. Once again Vardanega prepared a program that involved making chamber music with colleagues. This time those colleagues were violist Gonzalo Martin Rodriguez and cellist Chase Park, the latter having played at Vardanega’s last O1C appearance this past August. Rodriguez played the same Brahms sonata that Primrose had recorded with Kapell; and Park played Rachmaninoff’s Opus 19 (only the first and third movements). Following the intermission all three of them played Brahms’ Opus 114 trio in A minor with Rodriguez again playing music originally written for clarinet. I have no idea whether Vardanega was familiar with the Kapell CD, but it was impossible for me to listen without reflecting on my own personal experiences.Indeed, the Kurtz recording did much to draw my thinking about Rachmaninoff into a more favorable light. Rachmaninoff himself made it clear that this was not a sonata for cello with piano accompaniment. The piece was a conversation between equals; and it was easy for me to appreciate the extent to which this music was far more than the show-off piano virtuosity that had bombarded so many of my early listening experiences. Park and Vardanega could not have “conversed” better as equals (as they had already done last August); and the lyric qualities of the Andante (third) movement made for the perfect match of a keen command of technical detail with a shared approach to the depth of Rachmaninoff’s expressiveness.Rodriguez’ sonata performance, which opened the program, was not quite as strong. Part of the problem was that Rodriguez’ dynamics could not always balance with the lid of Vardanega’s piano raised to full-stick height. As I have previously observed, the upper harmonics of a clarinet allow the instrument to penetrate through just about anything, while the viola is a far more subtle instrument. Playing with short-stick height probably would have allowed for better balance, which, in turn, would have given a better account of how Rodriguez and Vardanega had chosen to approach this sonata. Sadly, that account got lost in many of the more aggressive keyb[...]



Month to Conclude with Two “Showcase” Programs

2018-01-05T11:19:20.922-08:00

Alexander String Quartet players Zakarias Grafilo, Sandy Wilson, Paul Yarbrough, and Frederick Lifsitz (from their Facebook event page)The last day of January will provide two opportunities to experience emerging talents. The genres associated with these events will be about as different as one could imagine. Since the timing will make it difficult to attend both of them, hopefully taste preferences will resolve how individual readers decide to make their respective choices.The first of these concerts will be the last program announced thus far in the Salon Series presented by San Francisco Performances (SFP). The featured performers for this event will be the members of the Alexander String Quartet (violinists Zakarias Grafilo and Frederick Lifsitz, violist Paul Yarbrough, and cellist Sandy Wilson), familiar faces to those who attend these Salon events regularly. However, the title of this program will be String Quartets. The use of the plural indicates that the Alexander players will use the occasion to introduce the Meraki Quartet, an ensemble of students at the Crowden School in Berkeley, which the Alexander musicians have been mentoring. Program details have not yet been announced, so we do not yet know if there will be any octet playing or just quartet perspectives from two different generations.This concert will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 31. Salon events last for about an hour, usually concluding with time for a Q&A with the audience. As usual, the venue will be the Hotel Rex, located at 562 Sutter Street, between Powell Street and Mason Street. All tickets are being sold for $25 and may be purchased in advance online from a City Box Office event page. Any additional information may be obtained by calling SFP at 415-392-2545.Around the time that this event concludes, the second performance will be getting under way at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). This will also involve a relationship between students and mentors featuring the inaugural class in the Roots, Jazz, and American Music bachelor’s degree program, which SFCM is offering in partnership with SFJAZZ. The concert will be a side-by-side performance in which SFCM students will play along with the members of the SFJAZZ Collective.This concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 31. SFCM is located at 50 Oak Street, between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street, a short walk from the Van Ness Muni station. There will be no charge for admission, and reservations will not be required.[...]



Sunset Music and Arts Plans Six Keyboard Recitals

2018-01-04T15:41:43.528-08:00

The remaining series of concerts presented by Sunset Music and Arts that will begin this month is entitled Recital: Instrumental Series. One could actually be more specific and call this the “Keyboard” series. The last of the six recitals to be performed will be on the organ at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, while the five preceding concerts will all be piano recitals.As with the other concert series, all recitals will take place at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, located at 1750 29th Avenue, about halfway between Moraga Street and Noriega Street. Ticket prices for all concerts will be $20 for general admission with a $15 rate for students and seniors; and tickets may be purchased online through Eventbrite. As is the case with the Chamber/Ensemble Series, subscriptions are not being sold; but each date and time in the schedule has a hyperlink to the event page for single ticket purchases. Further information may be obtained by calling 415-564-2324. All concerts will take place on a Saturday with specific dates and times as follows:January 20, 4 p.m.: The series will begin, appropriately enough, with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Recitalist Misuzu Tanaka will open with Bach’s BWV 971 “Italian” concerto for keyboard solo in F major. This will be followed by Felix Mendelssohn’s retrospective nod to Bach, the first (in E minor) of his Opus 35 collection of preludes and fugues. The first half of the program will then conclude with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 109 sonata in E major. The second half will begin with a piano sonata by Leoš Janáček giving the date of workers’ protest as its title “1.X.1905” (also given the subtitle “From the Street”). The program will then conclude with the so-called “Dante” sonata from the second “year” of Franz Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage (years of pilgrimage).February 3, 4 p.m.: Monica Chew will present an all-Beethoven program, framed by two of the composer’s most extensive works, his Opus 120 (“Diabelli”) set of variations and the Opus 111 sonata in C minor; between these two selections she will perform the Opus 126 set of bagatelles.March 17, 7:30 p.m.: Joana Gonzalez has prepared a recital that will also begin with Bach, this time the BWV 827 partita in A minor. The remainder of her program will offer an impressive range of virtuosic challenges, beginning with Frédéric Chopin’s Opus 61, which he called a “Polonaise-Fantasie,” in A-flat major. Equally challenging will be Maurice Ravel’s “Valse Nobles et Sentimentales;” and the program will conclude with Alberto Ginastera’s Opus 28 (first) sonata.May 5, 7:30 p.m.: Anne Rainwater will present a program that will begin with Bach and then follow with music from both this and the preceding centuries. She will feature a piece written for her by Bryce Cannell, who will be in attendance to discuss his work. The other composers on the program will be Pierre Boulez, David Lang, and Chris Gendall. Specific titles will be provided at a later date.June 16, 4 p.m.: Eric Tran will present a program consisting entirely of études by Chopin, playing the Opus 10 set in the first half and the Opus 25 set in the second.October 27, 4 p.m.: The one organ recital in the series will be presented by Othello Jefferson. As might be expected, his program will include Bach, as well as Mendelssohn, Hubert Parry, and several other composers. De[...]